Thursday, April 17, 2008

Scandinavia 2008 - Planning for a Trip to Europe

For our 10th year anniversary we ended up deciding to go on a cruise of northern Europe. I much prefer to explore countries on our own but L. wanted a relaxing anniversary this time and it made it easier to see more places in shorter time.
Our ship sailed from London. We had a couple of extra days there with just how our vacation time and the cruise dates lined up. Since we had been to London before I was looking for stuff that we hadn't done previously. I realized I liked the idea of going to school in London so I looked up the schools in the area and found some that fit what I wanted to get my PhD in perfectly. The best part was that one school had a open house a few days before I was planning to get there. I just bought my plane ticket for a little earlier so I could go. I contacted the schools and received information from them set up tours at for them.
One of the other cities we are going to is St. Petersburg Russia. To be able to get off the boat on a non-cruise paid excursion we had to get visas. This was a big pain in the butt. It really seems like Russia does not want Americans in their country or something, hmmmmm. We had to get a letter of sponsorship. The cruise company had contracted with a Russian travel company but it cost $35 per letter. It is just a racket to make more money. The application was a very invasive. We had to fill out past jobs, schooling, if we had been in any insurrections, and my personal favorite if we had any biological, nuclear, or explosive training. Since we live close enough, I thought it would be easier to drop off our passports at the Russian Consulate in NYC, and I really hate the idea of our passports getting lost in the mail. I under-estimated the line there. Most of it was for Russian passport issues but we learned pretty quick that Russia is a crowd, not a queuing society. Luckily there was a hand rail separating the two crowds crowding the stairs. A man unlocked the huge wooden door and luckily ushered in all the visa people. We turned in our paperwork, $130 per visa, and our passports and waited for the man to unlock the doors so we could leave. Three weeks later I came back by myself and got to repeat the whole process to pick them up again. I guess everything for my background check came out OK. Its funny, since we have also been to China and I had dropped off our passports at the Chinese Consulate I can say that the Russian visa process is more expensive, more invasive, more hoops to jump through, and they are the ones that are not communist anymore.

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